While Pete Thamel was researching his recently-released Sports Illustrated piece on the NCAA's ongoing Ole Miss investigation -- a piece in which Laremy Tunsil's stepdad, Lindsey Miller, claims Rebel football coaches and boosters provided financial incentives to lure the star O-lineman onto campus -- he reached out to Tunsil for comment.
"My only comment would be that you have to consider the source," replied Tunsil's lawyer, Steve Farese.
Indeed, Thamel writes that the four-plus year probe in Oxford "highlights a process that's unpredictable, flawed and inherently reliant on people who have turned against a school, or in this case, their own family." The NCAA's Notice of Allegations revealed that the bulk of the alleged violations against the current football staff rest on the testimony of Miller, a man who filed a civil suit against his stepson days before he became a millionaire in the NFL Draft.
So no, Thamel's article is not the damning hit piece it was rumored to be -- in fact, it offers little in the way of new information. Rather, his interviews with a handful of lawyers, a "veteran SEC coach," and Lindsey Miller himself reveal an inherently flawed and overly wrought investigative process that the NCAA is necessarily bound to, and the now generally accepted proposition that the NCAA's labor model is in its death throes.
Thamel's piece reinforces a number of glaring flaws attendant to the NCAA's investigative armature. Because the NCAA has no power of subpoena, obtaining hard and fast proof of infractions committed becomes an absurdist exercise in murky detective work. For instance, Miller -- who estimates that he spoke with NCAA representatives for 100 hours -- gave testimony to investigators at an Oxford McDonald's.
Miller says his interviews with NCAA investigators include marathon sessions on FaceTime and meetings at both a McDonald's in Oxford, Miss, and later in that restaurant's parking lot when he and Sheridan grew worried about being seen together.
"I got kind of tired of them," Miller says of the NCAA. "It was everyday for, I'm going to say, two to three weeks. (One day) we spoke for 12 or 13 hours, I took a lunch break and I took a dinner break. I cooperated fully, but it was a hassle."
This is the NCAA's star hostile informant, mind you, finally growing fed up at the time-drain that is interviewing with the organization's gumshoes.
As has been pointed out before, the Tunsil and Miller case squares rather well with the saga of Todd Gurley and a spiteful memorabilia dealer, who tried to pawn off video of Gurley signing various curios in exchange for money to anyone that would take it. In the case of the memorabilia dealer, he was rankled because he had lost exclusivity rights on the signature of a star collegiate athlete, who himself has no rights over his own signature, so long as he wants to play football at UGA.
Miller's motivations are less well defined, but a squint back at the last year of this stupid story seems to argue for pure, uncut spite driving him on. Never mind that Tunsil sat seven games already last season. Never mind that Ole Miss has already dropped 11 scholarships over four years. Never mind that Ole Miss has self-imposed three years of probation. Never mind that it will be future football players who will incur the brunt of whatever punishments come down the pipe, all because a vengeful step-dad went through the "hassle" of squawking all kinds of things to the NCAA.
And Miller is not just hostile, he's downright batty. Consider the following exchange from when Miller defended himself in court during the mutual assault charges case between him and Tunsil in 2015. Miller is cross-examining Desiree Polingo, Tunsil's mother.
MILLER: You said I was upset about Mexican food and upset the Georgia people didn't pay. Was the fact that I drove 16 hours with your son, Alex Weber, paid for food for 16 hours, paid for a hotel for two nights, and everything was on my expense, wouldn't that be a reason to be upset? And you contributed zero. And didn't I call you a bitch because you called me a bitch? Isn't that why --
THE COURT: This is your time to cross-examine and you have to let her answer.
Leaving aside the hilarious snippet that Lindsey Miller apparently dislikes Mexican food, this is the man on whom rests much of the NCAA's evidence against Ole Miss football.
This line of thinking is feinted at in Thamel's piece, which would hit harder if it really focused on the lunacy of a four-year NCAA probe. "Public perception about players receiving extra benefits has changed significantly, but the NCAA's rules and stance have not," he writes. Well, yeah, and isn't that the whole damn point?